Rob Leigh wins third Grand for Western District exhibit

By Jesse Robitaille

For the third time since 2017, Rob Leigh has won a Grand Award for his five-frame exhibit exploring the seminal postal history of Upper Canada’s Western District in the first half of the 19th century.

Leigh’s latest victory came during BNAPEX 2021 Virtual, the first virtual exhibition of the British North America Philatelic Society (BNAPS), held from Sept. 2-6 via the society’s website,, and Zoom. An Illinois resident who was born in Chatham, Ont., Leigh also won two special BNAPS awards for his exhibit, “The Western District of Upper Canada: the Development of Postal Communications and Postal Markings, 1800-1850.”

“It’s an extremely comprehensive story about the early history of a large chunk of Upper Canada – the western part of Upper Canada – from 1800 to 1850,” said chief judge David Piercey, of Edmonton, Alta., one of four judges on the BNAPEX jury. “He’s done an inordinate amount of research to talk about the development of the postal routes and postal communication in those little, far-flung communities in the early parts of the settlement of Ontario.”

While Leigh has shown this exhibit – and to much success – at other shows, it was his first time exhibiting at BNAPEX, allowing him to win the Order of the Beaver Novice Award for the best first-time exhibitor at the annual BNAPS convention. In addition to the Horace W. Harrison Grand Award, Leigh also earned the Meyerson Award for the best exhibit of a pre-Confederation province or territory.

“It was an exceptional exhibit,” added Piercey.

Leigh, a physics professor at the University of Illinois, first entered this exhibit for competition four years ago at Canpex 2017 in London, Ont., where he won his first Grand Award. He followed that up with another national-level Grand Award at Orapex 2019 in Ottawa.

His Western District collecting interests began about 20 years ago, when he first sought out the postal history of the historic Kent County, whose townships, towns and Chatham amalgamated into the single-tier city of Chatham-Kent in 1998. Leigh then ventured into the stampless era and other earlier material from the Western District, which included Kent County plus nearby Essex and Lambton counties.

Among the exhibit’s latest additions is its first cover bearing a stamp. Because his period of study ends in about 1850, no Canadian stamps, which were first issued in 1851, are relevant to show. The new addition is a cross-border cover franked with an 1847 U.S. 10-cent stamp featuring George Washington and mailed from New York through Upper Canada in 1849.

“The judging is done somewhat differently than other accredited national shows, so that was interesting, and it was great to get feedback,” said Leigh, who might rework the exhibit for an international exhibition but added “some work is required for a non-Canadian audience.”


Across 14 classes, BNAPEX featured 38 competitive exhibits, including 20 multi-frame and 18 single-frame entries, all related to British North America philately.

Including non-competitive entries, there were 41 exhibits across 112 frames.

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